The question I get asked most often about training apparel is "What kinds of training shoes should I wear to the gym?"
There is nothing that signifies your accelerating readiness to start training than the purchase of workout apparel and in the hierarchy of things, buying your training shoes means you are serious about your mission and ready to go.
But what kind of shoe to buy can be a very personal question to your preferences. When it comes to shoes, like how we buy cars, often looks matter. That being said your look may not be mine but there are some classics that seem to stand the test of time and generations that remain popular today.
I basically break my needs up into the things I train for most which is strength and conditioning and martial arts. If you have sport specific needs here like volleyball, long-distance running... then these recommendations may not be right for you but if you are doing general fitness with a lot of cross-over work between endurance, strength, kick-boxing... this is what I keep in my gym bag that I recommend you try.
Strength and Conditioning
Let's start with good old fashion weightlifting. This and running are probably the most common training shoes. But in this case we are talking about everything from deadlifts and cleans to kettlebell swings and tire flips. When you have heavy weight in your hands that you are trying to move, the single most important thing to look for in a shoe is a stable base which normally means you want a pretty flat shoe that your foot fits snug inside without a lot of movement.
My shoe of choice here is the classic Converse Chuck Taylors, a staple for over 50 years. I am in good company here as this is a favorite shoe of some of the highest level powerlifters in the world that wear these when they train. Recognize that I am not talking about competition here as they make hard sole lifting shoes for that but I am talking about a good all around training shoe for the weight room. That being said I have seen Chucks in competition as well.
Anybody want to tell this guy that pink is for girls?
You might not like running in these shoes if you mix your resistance training with your endurance work but anyone who has worn these long enough knows they are very comfortable and running in these shoes is more than adequate to the task. If you want to break track records, then like I said above, get a sport specific shoe.
Martial Arts, Parkour, Free Running and Adult Tumbling
My next training shoe of choice has been a lessor known shoe outside of the asian martial arts and especially the Kung Fu community, but it is gaining steam among both the Parkour community and as a classic looking recreational shoe in Europe and its popularity is spreading worldwide now.
Feiyue is a Chinese classic that has been around since the 1920's. It is most commonly known as the shoe for the Shaolin monks but it has experienced a resurgence and is quickly becoming a worldwide classic much like Chuck Taylors
These shoes come in 2 different quality levels. The original classic is available as a private label through martial art supply companies like Tiger Claw starting at about $23. Amazon abounds with knock-offs from China and often will claim to be genuine Feiyue but they are not and they fall apart pretty quickly. That being said this is an inexpensive canvas shoe made with many imperfections that won't last as long as your Chucks but they are comfortable and the sole is a very soft pliable rubber that bends with your foot giving you great gripping power. Thus why the Parkour community has adopted them as the inexpensive shoe of choice for beginners.
More recently a European designer has noted the popular resurgence in all things classic and Feiyue caught their eyes and they have licensed the name and design and have begun making a better higher quality version for the fashion conscious. Websites and magazines have published photos of actor Orlando Bloom and model Poppy Delevingne wearing the brand. They come in all kinds of designs now both classic and modern and can cost upwards of $70-$100. These are much sturdier shoes with a more rigid sole and still make great training shoes but it hard to beat the $23 classics especially for martial arts.
Martial Arts, Kick-boxing, Striking, Running or Sprinting
Next up is one of my favorites for both strength and conditioning, my endurance work like sprinting and all my martial arts. This is my go to training shoe for gym, martial arts, comfort, and looks!
Onitsuka Tiger is another classic dating back to the 60's but it is back with a vengeance!
Onitsuka Tiger, the forerunner of ASICS, was born in 1949. Its most popular shoe was created in 1966 during the pre-olympic trials but it really started getting noticed during the 1968 Mexico Olympics from which they became mainstream. These legendary lines remain, unchanged, on every pair of Onitsuka Tigers and ASICS today.
This shoe is available today in many styles and colors but I prefer the classic white with red and blue stripes that have remained popular for decades. To me it is the perfect blend of shoe if you want to train martial arts and strength and conditioning at the same time or if you just want to punch and kick things with your shoes on rather than go barefoot. In fact I am in good company here as well as these were the shoes of choice for Bruce Lee. Recently an old pair of his white Onitsuka Tigers that he used for training were sold for $20,000
Or this pair of vintage Asics sneakers worn during his 1972 unfinished film Game of Death. He wore these sneakers during his fight scenes with Abdul-Jabbar, and they were later sent as a gift to his student and friend George Lee. They were sold at auction through Julien's in 2014 for $12,160.
When I feel I need some extra inspiration then I put on my Gold Asics made famous by Bruce Lee during his filming of the Game of Death and again by Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. This training shoe makes me a ninja and a better Scholar Warrior!
More modern styles with high quality workmanship is available from $70-$100 typically.
A little known fact... Phil Knight, an American middle distance runner and protegee of Bill Bowerman, co-founder of Nike, spoke to Mr Onitsuka as part of his MBA in marketing athletic shoes and loved the new TIGER CORTEZ that had just been released. Blue Ribbon Sports, the company he set up to bring Onitsuka Tigers to the USA, would later become Nike.
My last solution that I haven't wore for some time but having been a former wrestler always liked for both my fitness training and my martial arts is a classic wrestling shoe. Asics has some of the biggest selection here as well and makes some very affordable options.
You can't go wrong with any of the above choice and for that matter there are probably many more all purpose shoes that we could argue about here but I wanted to give you some classic options that have been around for decades, are still popular and specifically used by weightlifters and martial artists worldwide.
There is also one last standard that you can always turn to that has been around for centuries... Just go barefoot!